Marlbank Reserve: Stroll back in time through an ancient landscape
Perched in the southwest corner of Co Fermanagh lies Cuilcagh Mountain, a dramatic, visually striking feature of the landscape and at 665m, the highest point in the county.
This mountain looks down on the rolling Marlbank hills with their species rich calcareous grassland and exposed rocky outcrops of limestone, with patches of hazel scrub.
This is a short walk around the fields that are now managed by NIEA as a nature reserve where one can look at the above ground features of limestone as compared to the underground features in the caves. Killykeeghan is an ideal place to visit before or after visiting the Marble Arch Caves or the Cuilcagh Mountain Park. In turn these attractions are close to Florencecourt House and Forest Park.
Follow brown road signs to the Marble Arch Caves and on the Marlbank Scenic Loop you will pick up signs for Killykeeghan. The site is situated one mile west of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark Visitors Centre, on the scenic loop road.
The walk commences at the Killykeeghan car park. Here, an interpretative panel provides an overview of the site and things to look out for on the walk. A wooden gate to the right of the interpretation panel is where the walk begins. Walk up the hill to gain panoramic views of the west Fermanagh landscape. A map depicts each feature visible on the horizon, including the Cavan Burren and Belmore Mountain.
Follow the path to McGrath’s cottage, a small, two-roomed dwelling that was refurbished by NIEA in 2006. Heading north from McGrath’s cottage on a laneway you will see the expanse of Crossmurrin ahead, and on the right hand side of the laneway, limestone pavement. This rare and threatened habitat is of particular note, as Fermanagh contains Northern Ireland’s entire resource of the habitat. Turn left off the farm lane and onto a grass pathway; you will get a view of the different habitats contained within this reserve. On the hollows between the grassy knolls of calcareous grassland, peat has accumulated to a deeper level, forming blanket bog. Here there are specialist plants including heathers, cottongrass and a diverse array of mosses that grow in the wet, peaty soils. On the right, an old Early Christian cashel is present, which can be seen as a circular stone feature.
Farther along the path, glacial erratics are scattered to the right of the path, and are seen as large boulders that have been deposited as a result of glacial action thousands of years ago. The path goes through a field where old cultivation ridges are still visible, having been used many years ago for subsistence farming. Hazel scrub becomes particularly frequent at this part of the reserve. Exiting the woodland on the right hand side adjacent to the road is a Bronze Age Decorated Stone, with distinctive ‘cup and ring’ markings. The path will then lead back to the car park, marking the end of the walk.
Killykeeghan provides a number of different interesting features throughout the year. The limestone pavement can be viewed at all times of year. Here you can see the characteristic features known as clints (the flat pavement-like blocks) and grykes (the deep fissures between the clints). There is a special microclimate in the grykes, which provides shelter from winds and shade from the sun. This woodland-type climate allows species such as herb-robert, wood sorrel and hart’s-tongue fern to grow.
In spring the calcareous grassland becomes a blaze of colour. Things to look out for include the early-purple orchid, and the yellow flowers of the bird’s-foot trefoil. The creamy white flowers of the wind-pruned hawthorn trees also provide a colourful backdrop to the landscape.
In the summer the heather comes into flower with its pink/purple flowers, and high in the air meadow pipits and skylarks can be heard with their melodic birdsong. Harebells also come into season with their sky-blue bell-shaped flowers, which last into the early autumn months. Walk Name: Killykeeghan.
Area: Marlbank National Nature Reserve.
Nearest big town: Enniskillen.
Distance: Less than 1 mile.
Time: 20 minutes.
Terrain: Off-road grassy paths.
Access Restrictions: Dogs are not encouraged.
Facilities: Toilet facilities available along the route at McGrath’s cottage and interpretation panels inside the cottage.
Walk Developed By: Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Map: Sheet 26 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, The Sperrins available online at osni.gov.uk or at any local Tourist Information Centre.
Further information: For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com. CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.